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That Pivotal Moment in Every Love Story

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing, Stepping Stone

One of the challenges of writing romance novels is using a tried-and-true formula. Some theorists might suggest that makes writing them easier, but I disagree. If I wanted to write the same romance novel over and over, it might be simpler, but I want every novel to have fresh characters, a new setting, a unique (to me at least) underlying premise of conflict, and characters who have choices that previous characters haven’t faced.

Yes, in every romance novel the characters must finally choose love, but all the interim steps toward the essential trust and respect the reader must believe exists are all up to the writer and the journeys she decides to take the characters on.

Though I’ve used it once or twice, I’ve never been crazy about the “one look and she knew” approach. That doesn’t seem so much like a choice to me.

However, if a character has been actively working against having the choice of love available to her, and she finds herself finally aware that she’s been pathologically resisting a relationship, it can certainly work. There’s nothing more fun in character development than setting a character firmly on the ground and then yanking it out from under her. Who does she call? What does she try to grab on to? Is she hungry? Oh, so many questions needing answers!


I’m currently writing Stepping Stone, and my main character, Selena Ryan, is well aware that there are suitable choices for a mate, and unsuitable ones. She knows that her unsuitable choice is bad for her and wisely avoids it. (If only the Unsuitable One would avoid her as well!)

My challenge is to shake Selena out of her intellect so that, while the suitable choice is already in her mind, she realizes that it’s no longer a choice, it’s a necessity. Not just a woman she wants, but the one she can’t live without.

Twenty-mumble years and books later, finding that pivotal moment is still a challenge. I think I’ve figured out what happens to get Selena from wanting merely to pencil a woman into her schedule to realizing the next minute, the next hour, all her next days, are pale and incomplete without that very special woman near and close.

I really love writing romance novels, because for me — and for many readers, I think — they are a mystery, and even if you know how the book ends, you don’t know how the mystery is solved.

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